The First Black Hole To Be Imaged Gets a Name: Powehi

By R.J. Johnson - @rickerthewriter

April 13, 2019

Say hello to Powehi

Say hello to Powehi.

The ground-breaking black hole photo that's blanketed social media this week has an official name thanks to a Hawaiian language professor at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

Astronomers involved with the project approached Professor Larry Kimura to ask him for help to name the black hole located some 55-million light-years away from Earth in the nearby Virgo galaxy cluster.

"It is awesome that we, as Hawaiians today, are able to connect to an identity from long ago, as chanted in the 2,102 lines of the Kumulipo, and bring forward this precious inheritance for our lives today," Kimura said in a statement.

"To have the privilege of giving a Hawaiian name to the very first scientific confirmation of a black hole is very meaningful to me and my Hawaiian lineage that comes from po," he added. "I hope we are able to continue naming future black holes from Hawaii astronomy according to the Kumulipo."

The name was chosen for its roots in the Kumulipo, an 18th-century Hawaiian chant that describes creation. The word comes from two terms in the chant: Po, which means profound dark source of unending creation, and (wehiwehi), which is one of the ways that po is described in the chant.

Powehi was imaged thanks to more than 200 scientists working together to network a series of ground-based telescopes around the world known as the Event Horizon Telescope.

The photo shows an uneven ring of orange light surrounding a dark circle. The orange halo represents hot gas emissions located near the black hole's event horizon - the point where nothing, not even light, can escape the hole's massive gravity well. Powehi is massive with scientists estimating it to be more than seven BILLION times more massive than our own sun.

Black holes are made up of enormous amounts of matter all crammed together in a small space, warping gravity in its area. A black hole's gravity well is so strong that it draws in everything around it, including light. Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity describes gravity as the result of matter and energy warping space, much like a stretched out sheet will sag under the weight of a bowling ball in the middle. When too much matter and energy is concentrated in one place, space-time can collapse, resulting in a black hole like the one imaged by the EHT team.

Scientists believe black holes are common in the universe with many super-massive black holes located at the heart of every galaxy.

Photo: National Science Foundation

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